Twangville, Tennessee USA History


The first known settlers in the area of Twangville, TN  were Native Americans of the Mississippian culture, who lived in the area from about 1000 to 1400 AD. They sowed and harvested corn, made great earthen mounds, banged on drums and painted richly decorated pottery. They then mysteriously disappeared. Other Native Americans, the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Shawnee, followed and used the area as a hunting ground.


The Spaniard Hernando de Soto came through the area on his explorations in the 16th century but made no settlement, headed to Mexico, where he died from swamp fever 5 years later. French fur traders were the earliest tradesmen in Middle Tennessee, establishing a trading post around 1719. The first of these fur traders to appear was a young trapper from New Orleans named Charles “Hairy” Miller who, in 1714, built his post on a mound near the present site of Twangville. Extensive trade was carried on with Native American tribes frequenting the hunting ground. However, Miller's station did not remain, and by 1740, Middle Tennessee was again without a single white resident. The establishment of this and subsequent posts by men of French/English descent gave the locality around Twangville the name "Cut Paw", by which it was known to early historians. In 1769, Dutch hunter Timothy Tommy Titties built a cabin near a natural hot spring (the area would eventually be called Twang Dell) to use as a base of operations for fur trapping during his visits to the area.


The first permanent community of settlers, however, was not established until 1837. A group of about 10 settlers, led by Booker T. Twang (a free black man) left a settlement in The Republic of Texas, travelled overland for two months, and arrived on the banks of the Cumberland Creek near the center of present downtown Twangville on Christmas Day, 1837. They cleared the land and built a log stockade they called Fort Twangborough in honor of Lt. Thomas Francis Twang (Booker T’s father), who won acclaim in the Battle of the Alamo, as the first black lieutenant in the Texian Army. Booker T’s friend and fellow Twangborough settler Elisha Schweizer, along with some 5 families, including women and children, came in 7 flatboats and several pirogues down the Tennessee River and up Cumberland Creek, arriving April 23, 1837. They founded a new community and it was renamed Twangville in honor of its founder, Booker T. Twang, when it was incorporated as a town by the Tennessee legislature in June, 1837.


Booker T. Twang established a large tobacco plantation on 800 acres of fertile land in a dell just east of town. His tobacco became widely marketed around the region and his hand-rolled cigars became the cigars of choice in the smoking rooms of Tennessee high society.
As the north eastern terminus of the Natchez Trace, the town quickly developed as a tobacco center and river port and later as a railroad hub. It soon became a main commercial center of the entire Middle Tennessee region.


Booker T. Twang married Abigail Schweizer, daughter of fellow settler Elisha Schweizer (of German descent) on August 6th, 1837 and squired 5 children over the next 10 years. Abigail, admired for her musical ability, established the town’s first string band in the fall of 1838.


Over time, the borough developed a growing musical heritage, heralded as the “melting pot” of traditional mountain music, where songwriters, luthiers and quality instrument makers refined their craft. The Americana country music that we know of today, sprang from the loins of this small, talented community.


Historically, immigrants to the Southern Appalachian Mountains of North America brought the music and instruments of the Old World along with them for nearly 300 years. The Irish fiddle, the German derived dulcimer, the Italian mandolin, the Spanish guitar, and the African banjo were the most common musical instruments. The interactions among musicians from different ethnic groups produced music unique to this region of North America. Appalachian string bands of the early twentieth century primarily consisted of the fiddle, guitar, and banjo. This early country music along with early recorded country music is often referred to as old-time music.


Throughout the 19th century, several immigrant groups from Europe, most notably from Ireland, Germany, Spain, and Italy moved to Texas. These groups interacted with the Spanish, Mexican, Native American, and U.S. communities that were already established in Texas. As a result of this cohabitation and extended contact, Texas has developed unique cultural traits that are rooted in the culture of all of its founding communities.
This explains the importance of the immigration of the Twang and Schweizer families, originating from the Republic Of Texas, to the founding of Twangville, bringing their musical roots to that region of Tennessee.


The town’s fame continued to flourish into the 1900’s, whose progeny gave us many famous musicians and instrument makers. The first commercial recording of what can be considered country music was "Sallie Gooden" by fiddlist A.C (Eck) Robertson in 1922 for Victor Records. Columbia Records began issuing records with "hillbilly" music (series 15000D "Old Familiar Tunes") as early as 1924.


A year earlier on June 14, 1923, Fiddlin’ John Carson recorded “Little Log Cabin In The Lane” at Twangville Records.  Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to have a nationwide hit in May 1924 with “Wreck Of The Old ‘97." The flip side of the record was "Lonesome Road Blues," which also became very popular. In April 1924, "Aunt" Samantha Bumgarner and Eva Davis became the first female musicians to record and release country songs.


Many "hillbilly" musicians, such as Cliff Carlisle, recorded blues songs throughout the decade  and into the 30s. Other important early recording artists were Riley Puckett,  Don Richardson, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Al Hopkins, Ernest V. Stoneman, Charlie Poole And the North Carolina Ramblers and The Skillet Lickers.  The steel guitar entered country music as early as 1922, when Jimmie Tarlton met famed Hawaiian guitarist Frank Ferera on the West Coast.


Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter Family are widely considered to be important early country musicians. Their songs were first captured at a historic recording session in Bristol on August 1, 1927, where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound engineer.


Rodgers fused hillbilly country, gospel, jazz, blues, pop, cowboy, and folk; and many of his best songs were his compositions, including “Blue Yodel”, which sold over a million records and established Rodgers as the premier singer of early country music
Beginning in 1927, and for the next 17 years the Carters recorded some 300 old-time ballads, traditional tunes, country songs and Gospel hymns, all representative of America's southeastern folklore and heritage.

 

With the advent of the Great Depression, Twangville fell on hard times. Tobacco blight rendered many of the tobacco plantations desolate. When the Bank Of Twangville fell into bankruptcy in the spring of ’31, most of the townsfolk were forced to leave town in search of work. A large group of families including the Twangs, Schweizers, Millers, Kurtz’s and Derricks moved to Nashville in the summer of 1932, never to return. Their migration to that city changed the musical face of Nashville forever.


Another effect of the Great Depression was to reduce the number of records that could be sold. Radio, and broadcasting, became a popular source of entertainment, and "barn dance" shows featuring country music were started all over the South, as far north as Chicago, and as far west as California.


The most important was the Grand Ole Opry, aired starting in 1925 by WSM-AM in Nashville to the present day. Some of the early stars on the Opry were Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff and African American harmonica player DeFord Twang Bailey. WSM's 50,000 watt signal (1934) could often be heard across the country.


Many musicians performed and recorded songs in any number of styles. Moon Mullican, for example, played Western Swing, but also recorded songs that can be called rockabilly. Bill Haley sang cowboy songs, and was at one time a cowboy yodeler. Haley became most famous as an early player of rock n roll, adding Jimmie Rodgers-stylings to his environment, thus creating a sound that was very much his own. Between 1947 and 1949, country crooner Eddy Arnold placed a total of 8 songs in the top 10.


Through the years, the ancestry of Booker T. Twang’s lineage grew and spread throughout the United States. Brian J. Stafford and Paul W. King of SmokeBox Instruments can trace their lineage back to the Twang family. On Brian's mother’s side (Mary Schweizer) and Paul's mother's side (Betty Derrick) both families are a direct descendants of Booker T. Twang. It is through this pedigree that their talents find their origins.

 

For more information, select the link “The Progenitors Of Brian” (at left) to research Brian’s lineage.